Students on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Kearney. (Courtesy of the University of Nebraska)
OMAHA — Job opportunities, not taxes, tend to be top of mind when people choose to leave or come to Nebraska, says a researcher and workforce data expert at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Josie Schafer, who heads UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research, called brain drain and movement in or out of the state a “complex calculus” involving multiple factors.
But, she said that across several measures and data sets, jobs and professional growth rise as the major motivation driving migration patterns.
“We see a clear job focus when people leave the state,” she said.
Schafer cited a survey conducted by the U.S. Census and Labor Bureaus that asks why a person moved from one state to another. Schafer drilled down into the Nebraska data, saying that “new job or job transfer is the overwhelming response.”
Taxes are not offered as a specific choice. But Schafer said there is an “other” category where respondents can specify another factor, and she said taxes is not a commonly written response.
She also referred to a survey that CPAR conducted for the Greater Omaha Chamber. Its findings were not widely circulated because they coincided with the start of the pandemic, but they are relevant, especially as the Nebraska Legislature grapples with both workforce and tax burden challenges.
For that survey, the UNO team used sources such as LinkedIn to track down a sampling of more than 500 Nebraskans who left the state.
Participants were asked how important certain factors were when deciding to uproot from the Husker state.
Nearly 80% said that professional growth was “very important.”
When asked about amenities and quality of life, 53% gave that same “very important” rating, and 47% said the same when it came to values or culture of a new community.
Taxes were not included in that particular question. But in a separate question, Schafer noted, an average of 11% chose taxes as a “determining factor” in deciding to leave Nebraska. About 16% chose the cost of housing as a determining factor (that was the top response for the options provided).
Schafer recently was on a panel discussion hosted by OpenSky Policy Institute regarding the intersection of taxes and migration.
Rebecca Firestone, executive director of OpenSky, said that “who stays in Nebraska and who comes to Nebraska is intimately wrapped up in some policy decisions” facing lawmakers.
Another panelist was Cristobal Young of Cornell University’s Department of Sociology, who studies how sociological dynamics shape effects of public policy. He agreed that job opportunities, more than taxes, drive people in and out of states.
“There is some tax migration, but it’s small,” Young said, adding that a focus of communities concerned with losing population should be on college graduates, and especially young people and families already in the state.
After a certain amount of time, he said, people have built social and economic capital and stay put, forming generational roots.
“Migration is a young person’s game,” Young said. “It’s about recent college graduates, primarily, in the U.S. overall.”
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